Learn How to Make Nutritious, Flavorful Meals Without Meat
Are you confused by the many different foods, theories, fads, and techniques championed by various proponents of healthy eating? In Vegetarian Cooking for Starters, Blanche McCord gives straightforward, easy-to-follow dietary advice, explains what common vegetarian foods are, offers immediately useful explanations on how to prepare vegetarian dishes, and includes simple, savory recipes that will quickly help you add vegetarian meals to your diet.
Most importantly, these low-fat recipes are delicious! Every recipe has been created with the help of thousands of taste-testers, assuring you that every dish will be both healthy and delectable.
Whether you’d like to become a complete vegetarian, incorporate some vegetarian eating into your current diet, or just learn how to cook vegetarian food for a loved one, this book is for you.
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Vegetarianism
Why Become a Vegetarian?
What Do Vegetarians Eat?
The Ideal Diet
The Role of Dairy Products and Eggs
What about Protein?
A Word about “Organic” Foods
Chapter 2: The Plant Kingdom:
Seasonings and Condiments
Chapter 3: Conscious Cooking and Healthy Living
Chapter 4: Foods to Buy and Tools You’ll Need
The Vegetarian Pantry
Useful Kitchen Utensils
Measures and Weights
Chapter 5: Guidelines for Successful Cooking
Chapter 6: Essential Cooking Techniques
Vegetable and Tofu Cutting Shapes
Tofu, Tempeh and Seitan
Nuts and Seeds
Chapter 7: Recipes
Legumes (Beans, Tofu, Tempeh, Wheat-Gluten)
Sauces and Dressings
Chapter 8: How to Plan a Menu
Chapter 9: Suggested Menus
I was first introduced to vegetarianism in 1976 by friends who were inspired by the practice of yoga and meditation, as taught in India. I was about eighteen years old and living in Israel, where I was born and raised.
I started to eliminate all meat, fowl and fish from my diet. Instead, I ate more bread, cheese and salads. After a short time, however, I started to feel weak, and soon realized that my diet was not nourishing me properly. Gradually I became aware of the wonderful abundance of grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds that contribute to a balanced vegetarian diet.
Over the last 25 years, I have experimented with many different approaches to vegetarianism, including a diet that includes dairy and eggs, macrobiotics, veganism, raw foods, and Ayurveda. Drawing on my experience with the effect of these various diets on my health and sense of well-being, I have developed my own style of vegetarian cooking. This approach emphasizes the consciousness-lifting qualities of natural foods, with attention to nutrition, good taste and appearance.
Now I wish to be of help to you in your early exploration of vegetarian cooking. I am delighted to share with you the abundance and creativity of a plant-based diet, a diet rich in all the nutrients you need for health and vitality.
Whether you want to become vegetarian or you are just curious, Vegetarian Cooking for Starters is for you. By following this simple guide, you’ll learn to prepare tasty, nourishing dishes and easily create balanced, satisfying meals.
My best wishes for your perfect health, Blanche McCord
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Vegetarianism
Why Become a Vegetarian?
Perhaps once considered a strange lifestyle in Western culture, vegetarianism is now quite common in our society.
Though each person’s decision to adopt a vegetarian diet is usually based on a combination of reasons uniquely his or
hers, there are three primary concerns that vegetarians may have considered. These are improved health, ethical and
environmental concerns, and spiritual convictions.
As awareness of the role of saturated fats and cholesterol in obesity, heart disease, and cancer has grown, many
Americans have adopted a vegetarian diet as a type of preventive medicine. Others say that there is more to be concerned
about than just fat and cholesterol, that, in fact, human beings are simply not designed to property digest and thrive
on meat. This view is based on the observation that the teeth and digestive tract in the human body are more like those
of non-meat eating animals than that of carnivores.
Some question the safety of meat as a food, at least in the way that it is currently produced and marketed. Aside from
the recent real problems of animal plagues that can infect humans also (such as “Mad Cow” Disease), there is a growing
concern over the widespread use of antibiotics and hormones in the production of meat, and how human health may be
affected by ingestion of drug-saturated meat.
Ethical and Environmental Concerns
It has been stated that if all the land currently used for animal grazing were put into grain, legume, and vegetable
production, there would be no hunger and starvation in the world, as there would be ample supply to feed every man, woman
and child a nutritious diet. Other concerns include: the rapid destruction of particular environments, such as the rainforest,
in order to support the beef industry; mistreatment of factory-farmed animals; over-fishing of rivers and oceans, and the
destruction of other species in the process (for example, dolphins that get caught in tuna fishing nets).
A number of spiritual teachings, including those of yoga, Hinduism, Jainism, and many Native American and other aboriginal
peoples, believe that all living beings are expressions of God. Therefore, all animals are equally precious embodiments of
Spirit, and should be respected as such. The practice of killing animals for food is thus abhorrent to adherents of these
religions and to be avoided except as necessary to sustain life (for example, in environments where there are few plant foods available).
What Do Vegetarians Eat?
As the name suggests, vegetarians do eat vegetables. But that is certainly not all we eat! I recall one particularly
disappointing experience with what seems to be a common American concept of a vegetarian meal.
In 1994, while I was visiting friends in Los Angeles, we planned to have lunch at a highly regarded restaurant in
one of the major downtown hotels. We made our reservations, specifically requesting a vegetarian entrée. I was really
looking forward to the experience, because the restaurant had a reputation for exceptionally delicious food. To my
dismay, our lunch consisted of ordinary pasta with red sauce, and plain boiled vegetables. Bland and unappetizing,
it was essentially a meal from which the meat had been removed, but nothing at all interesting had been added!
A vegetarian diet can actually provide us with much more variety in tastes and textures than the typical meat-based
fare. While the average American home-cooked meal generally consists of a piece of meat (or fish, perhaps), a starch
(such as potatoes, rice, pasta or bread), and a cooked vegetable and/or salad, a vegetarian repast may be composed of
a number of dishes combining legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts, fruits and seasonings.
And, not all vegetarians eat alike. Because of varying concerns about the quality and means of obtaining non-flesh
animal products, there are differences in diet within vegetarianism. The three main approaches are:
- Ovo-lacto vegetarianism, which includes the products of animals obtainable without slaughter,
such as milk products, eggs, and honey.
- Lacto-vegetarianism, which includes dairy products and honey but avoids eggs (as the embryos of
potentially living beings).
- Veganism, which avoids all products of animal origin, including honey and other bee products
(usually based on a desire to avoid consumption of any food that involves the exploitation of animals).
In general, a balanced vegetarian diet is based on natural foods, including whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
The Ideal Diet
Even fresh, natural foods have varying influences on our consciousness, which affects our health and happiness.
The teachings of yoga recommend following a diet that promotes harmony rather than stimulation — one that keeps the
nervous system calm and peaceful, and fills the body with energy, vitality and strength. According to these beliefs,
all creation — and therefore our food — is composed of three subtle qualities, those that are elevating, activating or
darkening. When we eat, or surround ourselves with, one of these qualities, our consciousness is drawn in that direction.
By our awareness of these tendencies, and by choosing carefully how we feed our bodies, we can influence and shape our
minds and lives. Here are some guidelines:
Natural, calming and cleansing foods are elevating, as are foods that increase life, vitality, strength, health
and joy. They draw us toward goodness, truth, purity and spirituality, and foster within us such qualities as expansiveness,
intelligence, creativity, love, sympathy, calmness, patience, and devotion.
Elevating foods include raw fruits and vegetables, fresh raw milk and cream, butter and ghee, nuts and seeds,
and dried fruit, as well as pure water, clean air, and sunlight.
Cooked, spicy and stimulating foods are activating, as are foods that are excessively hot, bitter, sour, or salty.
They give us physical energy, and support such “movement-oriented” qualities as curiosity, initiative, creativity,
liveliness, ambition, restlessness, impulsiveness, over-seriousness, and aggression.
Naturally activating foods include whole grains, lightly cooked vegetables and fruits, onions, garlic, eggs, cheeses,
fats and oils, salt, refined sugar, soft drinks and coffee. Lamb, poultry and fish are also activating.
Overcooked, spoiled or unwholesome foods are darkening. They lead us toward dullness, laziness, inertia, negativity,
anger, covetousness, deceit, lust, and body consciousness.
Darkening foods include moldy cheeses, deep-fried food, very hot spicy foods, overcooked food, and foods that are
canned, frozen, over-processed, chemically preserved, or fermented. Alcoholic beverages, beef, pork and all dried
meats are darkening.
One might think that to achieve perfect health and lift our consciousness, we would want to eat only elevating foods.
But Paramhansa Yogananda, the great master of yoga, recommended a diet that includes foods with both elevating and
activating vibrations. Why? For one thing, many people are unable to successfully digest (and therefore draw the life
force from) raw foods. Also, most of us have active lives, with many duties and responsibilities that require physical
energy and initiative. As Yogananda pointed out, we need to balance our need to fulfill these outer demands with the
desire to seek a higher consciousness. Therefore, his recommended diet included whole grains (cooked), vegetables and
fruits (raw and lightly cooked), low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, butter, nuts and seeds.
As you think about what kind of balance you’d like to achieve in your life and diet, remember that there are other
factors at work also. Even though each food has its own innate vibrations, our consciousness and intention in cooking
and eating that food can help us to infuse it with uplifting, more spiritually supportive vibrations.
The Role of Dairy Products and Eggs
Whole milk is rich in protein, calcium, and vitamins. Eggs are a wonderful source of high-quality protein,
abundant B vitamins, and minerals. They can both be part of a healthy vegetarian diet. However, mass-production farming
methods, long-term storage, and long-range shipping requirements have greatly compromised the quality of most dairy
products and eggs available in the markets today.
Many people, both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, have found that dairy products can contribute to health
problems such as allergies, asthma, arthritis, and heart disease. Whole milk is high in fat and contains cholesterol,
making it a poor choice for those who need or wish to limit their fat intake. In addition, some individuals lack the
enzyme needed for digesting lactose, which is the natural sugar found in milk. The variety of reduced-fat and non-fat
varieties of milk, cheeses, and yogurt now available has provided a partial solution, as has the advent of lactose-free
milk products, but these are all highly-processed foods.
In the yogic tradition milk is believed to have uplifting, calming and healing properties—but only when the milk
is produced by healthy home bred cows that are raised on natural feed, and not treated with hormones and antibiotics.
In addition, the milk should be consumed shortly after milking the cow, and not be homogenized or refrigerated
beforehand. Likewise, butter, yogurt and cheeses should be made with fresh milk, and not adulterated with artificial
color and flavor. Fresh cheeses, such as cottage cheese or farmer style cheeses, are preferred. Finally, milk is
considered to be a food in itself, and not as a beverage to be drunk along with a meal.
For the most part, the American dairy industry produces milk, butter, yogurt and cheeses that do not meet these
standards. If you want to include dairy foods in your diet, look for a local, organic source.
In recent years, eggs have been banned from the diets of many Americans because of their natural cholesterol
content. Actually, the fat and cholesterol are contained entirely in the egg yolk, along with B vitamins and
minerals; the egg white is almost pure protein.
Eggs are generally produced by hens kept in artificial indoor environments, and raised on feed laced with
antibiotics and hormones to increase production. But there are sources of eggs produced by “range-fed” chickens
that are not kept confined and are given natural feed without hormones or antibiotics. Some of these free-range
chickens are fed only organically-grown grains, but not all, so it is important to read the egg carton carefully.
Even so, these eggs may have lost some of their nutritional value through the time of transit and storage before
For people who suffer from allergies to dairy products and eggs, or who simply do not want to eat them, there
are many alternatives available in the market today. There are several commercially available brands of almond,
rice and soymilk, and cheeses made from these same non-dairy sources. Egg substitutes, in both liquid and powder
form, are also available, often in mainstream supermarkets. For recipes that call for eggs, you can also use ground
flaxseed, silken tofu, or pureed fruit as substitutes.
It is also possible to create delicious and fully nutritious meals without use of dairy, eggs, or any substitute
products, which is what I have done in my recipes.
What about Protein?
In the not too distant past, it was considered essential for good health to eat meat or fish for the “complete”
protein that they provide. Attempting to compensate for this perceived lack in the vegetarian diet, early enthusiasts
advocated food combining techniques that would allow the body to extract the elements of complete proteins from each
plant-based meal. This was predicated on the understanding of the human body’s ability to synthesize proteins from
the building blocks of the eight essential amino acids present in foods. But because it was thought that all the
necessary amino acids had to be present in the stomach at the same time, this was a cumbersome method, involving
eating certain combinations of foods in exact proportions at each meal.
Fortunately, continuing scientific research has shown that, not only do most foods contain proteins, but also that
the human body can synthesize proteins from amino acids ingested over a period of time. In other words, by eating
an adequate, balanced plant-based diet that meets our energy needs, we will be providing our bodies with
plenty of protein.
However, it is true that certain groups of people — the elderly, children, and pregnant women — have higher
nutritional needs. For them, and for others with higher nutritional requirements or difficulties in assimilating
nutrients from their food, it may be advisable to supplement a plant-based diet with small amounts of dairy products
and eggs. If you have any question about the advisability of a vegetarian diet for yourself, be sure to consult with
A Word about Organic Foods
Organic foods are those grown or produced without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides and
pesticides. In addition, true organic farming involves the use of organic matter (manure and compost) to enrich the soil,
so that its nutrients are replenished constantly. Organically grown foods are usually more nutritious and more flavorful
than commercially grown products. Not only is it better for our health to eat organic foods, but it helps to create
a sustainable agricultural system.
To ensure that you are getting good quality organic foods, it helps to know the source — the farmer or company, and
your grocer. Buying organic foods locally, with the seasons, will help reduce your cost.
“This brief, simple introduction [to vegetarian cooking] includes strong information on the spiritual beliefs of vegetarianism, as well as easy-to-follow recipes. [It] also offers practical information for cooks, such as the best ways to cook grains and legumes, how to prepare tofu, and different ways to dry roast nuts and seeds. True beginners will appreciate the fact that this primer assumes no previous knowledge or experience with vegetarian cooking.”
“Well-conceived and executed introduction to vegetarian fare, with an extra emphasis on nutrition, good taste and appearance. McCord supplements the expected section on recipes with opening, overview type chapters (‘An Introduction to Vegetarianism’ and ‘The Plant Kingdom’), then moves into the practical realm with chapters like ‘Foods to Buy and Tools You’ll Need’ and ‘Essential Cooking Techniques.’ Readers who may have always been curious about the non-meat lifestyle but otherwise too wary to explore their leanings further will not be disappointed by this beginner’s peek.”
—The Boox Review
“An excellent introduction to the philosophy and basic techniques of vegetarian cooking. Highly recommended for newcomers to the vegetarian lifestyle and for their family and friends who want to cook for them.”
—Nancy Mair, author of Simply Vegetarian! and The Intimate Vegetarian